Many seniors have, at some point in their lives, felt the sting of social isolation or loneliness— which are actually two independent but related conditions. A person in a state of social isolation has minimal contact with other people while someone who is lonely experiences the negative feelings associated with perceived social isolation. In other words, social isolation is a state of being alone that can cause feelings of loneliness.
Isolation is difficult for anyone, but it can have particularly serious consequences for older adults.
Social Isolation Can Be Particularly Difficult for Older Adults.
More than 16 million seniors will be living alone by 2020, according to the National Council on Aging, and social isolation and loneliness can be serious issues for these older adults. Older people with inadequate social interaction are more than twice as likely to suffer premature death.
Seniors who live alone and have few visitors may not get the emergency help they need after a fall, for example. Loneliness can also lead to mental health problems, including depression and anxiety. Suicide is a serious problem among seniors. In 2011, the suicide rate among seniors was 15.3 per 100,000, which is much higher than the current rate of 12.7 per 100,000 seen in the general population. Suicide is a preventable health condition, as are loneliness and other conditions associated with social isolation.
Unfortunately, a 2009 AARP survey also found that about 35 percent of respondents aged 45 and older were dealing with feelings of loneliness and that these lonely respondents were less likely to participate in activities that build social networks, such as volunteering, spending time on a hobby or attending religious services.
You Can Still Feel Alone in a Community Full of People.
At first glance, moving into a retirement or assisted living community looks like a quick fix— simply surround yourself with people and the loneliness takes care of itself— but that is not always the case. Meeting people, establishing relationships and making new friends can sometimes seem like a mountain of work, especially after a big event like moving to an assisted living apartment.
If you have just moved into an assisted living apartment and you feel lonely, know that you are not alone. The AARP survey found that a great number of seniors—almost half of respondents— who live in a new residence for less than one year often find themselves feeling lonely.
It is perfectly normal for you to feel lonely when you first move into an assisted living apartment. But the good news is that the solution to this social isolation and loneliness may be right outside your front door.
Wave to Your Neighbors
This weekend, celebrate two silly, yet important, holidays that encourage you to meet new people and reconnect with old friends. Wave All Your Fingers at Your Neighbors Day and Send a Card to a Friend Day—both on February 7— celebrate social engagement and friendship and are a perfect to start rebuilding your social connectedness.
Mayo Clinic. says that friendship can boost happiness and reduce stress, help you cope with trauma, and encourage you to avoid healthy lifestyle habits. Having hundreds of friends is not necessary – a handful of good friends will do. On the other hand, you do not have to develop deep and intimate relationships with everyone you meet, as it may be easier for you to maintain a few acquaintances during your first hectic year at your new assisted living apartment.
But you don’t have to wait for a quirky, made-up holiday to wave at your neighbors. Fortunately, you can start gaining the health benefits of friendship any day of the year.
Waving at your neighbors may be the easiest way to rebuild your social ties, no matter what day you start waving. The simple gesture requires no conversation, financial investments, or subsequent social commitments. Waving is fast, free, and almost anyone can do it— just raise your hand and move it in a side-to-side motion.
For added benefit, throw in a smile.